Archive for April, 2012

Why Catholic?

St. Vincent de Lerins

Several parishioners recently have expressed concern over, or even complained about, the use of the word “catholic” on our parish sign and in our advertising. The concern seems to be that people will pass our parish by because the use of the word catholic will somehow repel them from the church. I fear that this is a failing of clergy to adequately fulfill their teaching office, and for that I can do nothing other than offer profound apologies and to try to teach.
The easy answer to the question simply would be that it is a matter of “truth in advertising”: we are, after all, corporately a member parish and individually members of a body called the Anglican Catholic Church. It is a body that asserts it adheres to the first seven Councils of the undivided church, among other theological norms such as a sacramental life.  As well, we are “catholic” in the sense that we profess to be so every time we recite the creeds. To be an an Anglican, is to assert a claim to being catholic.

Somehow, though, that may not be sufficient explanation for those who question the use of the word catholic. So, here is the reason for the use of the word in the words of St. Vincent of Lerins, a father of the undivided church (to which we also claim adherance) in A.D. 434.

You see, there had been considerable doctrinal confusion way back then-just as is the case in these post-modern times. St. Vincent wrote for “a literate minority” of Catholics at a time when the Western Empire was disintegrating and the Church, in the East as well as the West, was rife with heresies. Remember: “Catholic” was not viewed throught the prism of the Protestant Reformation and/or through the lens of antipathy or even bigotry. It was ther term applied in the Nicene Creed to non-heretical Christians. (Heretics liked the term too, but that is for another day.)

St. Augustine, for example, had died in 430 while still fighting, among other evils, Donatism and Pelagianism. In 431, the third “ecumenical council” too place at  Ephesus, and was held amidst street riots and bitter episcopal machinations.  That council anathematized a fellow named Nestorius and, thus, caused a schism that has lasted down to this day.

We do not know whether St. Vincent, a Western father, knew about that council when he wrote. But his purpose in that tumultuous and parlous time was clear: to give thinking Catholics a reliable criterion for determining whether a given controversial doctrine expressed the faith of the Catholic Church (his term, mind you) or not.

So, father, you ask, “Why does this have to be on the sign?” It is the definition of the metes and bounds of our faith. Here it is in the words of St. Vincent. The language is a bit stilted and difficult, but, I believe in letting saints and fathers of the church speak for themselves. The bold bits are those I believe are particularly important.
From Chapter 4 of the Commonitorium (A.D. 434) [ed. Moxon, Cambridge Patristic Texts):
(1) I have continually given the greatest pains and diligence to inquiring, from the greatest possible number of men outstanding in holiness and in doctrine, how I can secure a kind of fixed and, as it were, general and guiding principle for distinguishing the true Catholic Faith from the degraded falsehoods of heresy. And the answer that I receive is always to this effect; that if I wish, or indeed if anyone wishes, to detect the deceits of heretics that arise and to avoid their snares and to keep healthy and sound in a healthy faith, we ought, with the Lord’s help, to fortify our faith in a twofold manner, firstly, that is, by the authority of God’s Law, then by the tradition of the Catholic Church.

(2) Here, it may be, someone will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

(3) Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

(4) What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.

This, beloved, is what we claim to profess and to confess at each service. This is our reason for being. We draw our faith from the well-spring of the Scriptures as kept within the bounds of tradition and the councils of that time (and it was tumultuous) when the Church established by Christ was undivided East from West, and before the excesses of the continental Reformation.

This is why we hold such beliefs that Christ is really presnt in the Eucharist, Baptism is regenerative, that there are sacraments, and that our clergy are deacons, priests and bishops in Apostolic Succession, rather than simply “ministers”. This is why we should not wish to re-invent the Episcopal Church without it’s more recent novelties, but to yearn for something more-something more ancient, something more traditional, something more universal and true.

Beloved in Christ, we are called by St. Vincent, and by all of the saints and fathers, to “go deep”. We are called to go deep into our faith to find, to nurture and to advance that which is “believed everywhere, always and by all.”

(With thanks to Michael Liccione)

Read Full Post »

ImageOn Friday, April 13th 2012 at 11:00 am, there will President Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday Commemoration will take place at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The event, sponsored by the District Columbia Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, will include wreath-laying by representatives of a number of patriotic societies, the Federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia accompanied by a military honor guard.  Canon Nalls is scheduled to deliver the invocation and benediction.

For Our Country.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer Attributed to Thomas Jefferson-1928 Book of Common Prayer p. 36.

Read Full Post »